Chest pain or discomfort can indicate a heart attack in both males and females, but it can also result from heartburn, lung problems, and other issues.

In some cases, pain or discomfort may be due to other causes, such as heartburn, reflux, a lung-related issue, or another problem affecting the heart. Although some possible causes of chest pain are less serious, a woman should seek help immediately as this symptom may indicate a medical emergency.

In this article, we provide more information on the typical female signs and symptoms of a heart attack and discuss other possible causes of chest pain.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience symptoms of a heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 male deaths and 1 in 5 female deaths are due to heart disease. Heart disease refers to several conditions that affect this organ, including heart attack.

Men and women tend to show different signs of a heart attack.

Women are less likely than males to feel an overwhelming amount of pressure in their chest. Instead, they are more likely to experience dizziness, fatigue, or nausea. They may also have pain in both arms, rather than just the left arm.

Any woman who experiences any of these symptoms should call 911 or seek emergency medical care immediately.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the typical symptoms of heart attacks in women include:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweat, lightheadedness, or nausea
  • discomfort, numbness, or pain in one or both arms, the neck, stomach, jaw, or back
  • a squeezing sensation, pain, uncomfortable pressure, or fullness in the center of the chest

The sensations affecting the chest tend to last for more than a few minutes or stop before starting again.

There are several other possible causes of chest pain in women.

Although many causes are not as severe as a heart attack, they may still require medical attention.

Heart-related conditions

Some heart-related conditions that may cause chest pain include:

  • myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle
  • angina, which is pain resulting from the heart not getting enough blood
  • cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle
  • pericarditis, which is inflammation of the sac around the heart
  • aortic dissection, which is a rare condition in which there is a tear in the aorta

Gastrointestinal complications

In some cases, chest pain may be due to gastrointestinal complications and conditions. These may include:

  • heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • inflamed gallbladder or pancreas
  • gallstones

Lung-related conditions

Other possible causes of chest pain have an association with the lungs and can include:

Bone or muscle problems

In other cases, a woman may experience chest pain due to issues with the bones or muscles.

A broken or bruised rib can cause pain and swelling, while chronic pain syndrome and the overexertion of muscles can both cause pain in the chest.

A compression fracture may put pressure on a nerve, causing pain.

Anyone with unexplained chest pain should see a doctor, who can run tests to determine the underlying cause and suggest appropriate treatments.

Typically, a doctor will ask several questions about the person’s individual and family medical history. They will also ask about other symptoms and the medications that a person is taking.

Knowing this information can help the doctor rule out some possible causes.

In addition, the doctor may run one or more tests to determine the cause of the pain. These tests might include:

  • A chest X-ray: An X-ray allows the doctor to look at the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Blood tests: These tests measure enzyme levels in the blood.
  • An MRI: This scan can reveal any damage to the heart or aorta.
  • An angiogram: Doctors use this exam to check for blockages in specific arteries.
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG): This test records the heart’s electrical activity.
  • Stress tests: Doctors use these to measure heart function after exertion.
  • An echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses sound waves to record moving images of the heart.

A doctor may prescribe one of several treatment options, depending on their diagnosis and the results of the tests. The underlying cause of the pain will often determine the urgency and extent of the treatment.

If the chest pain is due to issues with the heart, the doctor may suggest one or more of the following treatments:

  • cardiac catheterization, which is a procedure to open blocked arteries
  • medications that open closed arteries, break down clots, or thin the blood
  • surgery to repair arteries

In cases where the cause of the chest pain does not relate to the heart, a doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • antacids or acid reducers to help prevent reflux and heartburn
  • reinflation of a collapsed lung
  • anxiety medication

Women should take sudden or unexplained chest pain seriously, particularly if they experience any other symptoms of a heart attack.

It is beneficial to talk to a doctor about any chest pain because treatment can usually help alleviate the pain and heal the underlying condition.